We often refer to wildlife rangers as stewards of nature and public lands. In a nutshell, they preserve and protect such places. As part of their environmental upkeep and protection roles, they enforce strict park rules and laws. To qualify for a wildlife ranger career, a college degree must be attained to learn the ins and outs of this career track.
Certain colleges have the resources required to develop courageous and skilled leaders that set park regulations to showcase these exquisite locations to the public while keeping conservation efforts in mind.
If you seek to become a wildlife ranger, education is a must. Equally important is for a future professional to be passionate and committed enough to accept roles in all types of municipal, state, or national parks.
Being a wildlife ranger may be the perfect career for you if you enjoy the outdoors and believe it is worth conserving and safeguarding. Ranger positions range from conducting guided tours in state or national parks to working in law enforcement, which means you have numerous opportunities!
College degree programs can lead to this challenging yet fulfilling career that pays well and offers opportunities for climbing the career ladder, depending on education, experience, and tenure.
Will the University You Attend Matter?
Wildlife rangers are generally exposed to hands-on and theoretical education (and work) related to Forestry as a discipline.
While Forestry students may choose career paths that align with their skills, they usually find employment in naturist settings where they execute the park’s daily operations or natural environment and help companies comply with environmental laws.
Through internships, volunteer opportunities, and professional organizations, students gain insight into these types of careers.
These best colleges offering high-quality education related to wildlife and forestry management set you up for the right careers—wildlife range jobs included.
The Best Colleges for Becoming a Wildlife Ranger
Nestled in a spectacular natural setting, the SUNY-ESF Ranger School is located in the northwest Adirondack Mountains near Wanakena. It offers bachelor’s and Associate in Applied Science (AAS) programs in Environmental and Natural Resource Conservation, Forest Technology, and Land Surveying Technology.
Ranger School AAS degrees offer a variety of opportunities in forest, natural resources, and surveying technologies. They are also your springboard for a Bachelor of Science degree.
After completing their first year of coursework at ESF main campus or a college of their choice, AAS students spend the second year of their program at the Ranger School.
The Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science helps students establish a solid foundation in science and introduce them to the interdisciplinary breadth of environmental science through courses that address geography, physical science, social science, and living environments.
Another choice is the Bachelor of Science in Forest Health which includes expertise in several fields, like mycology, plant pathology, ecology, and entomology. They have been providing this training for some time now, but they were only recently merged into a single academic major.
As a gateway to a rewarding forestry career, their forestry program invites you to contribute to the natural world and enjoy outdoor activities for many years to come. Forestry education and research at Northern Arizona University are nationally and internationally recognized.
There is no other program in North America with a more diverse faculty. The Society of American Foresters nationally accredits them. Certain states may offer licensure or certification upon completion of this program.
With the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest, Arizona’s highest mountain range, and the red rock country of Sedona, a short drive from Flagstaff, students pursuing forestry degrees benefit from the area’s natural beauty. Their distinguished faculty members are recognized leaders in forestry, and they share their expertise and knowledge with the students.
Additionally, a high student-to-faculty ratio means that you will receive personal attention, advice, and interaction that you won’t find in programs with larger classes. Get ready to enroll in their Bachelor of Science in Forestry if your life’s mission is to protect nature for the future generation to enjoy it.
Working in the School of Forestry will prepare you to become a competent professional forester. Study all forest ecosystems, manage them, and explore other certificate programs.
Colorado State University’s College of Natural Resources is dedicated to providing students with a supportive learning environment.
They offer a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs as part of their commitment to addressing today’s most important environmental and natural resource issues. Students participate in direct problem-solving experiences grounded in state-of-the-art science and technology.
Under their undergraduate and graduate programs, natural resource and environmental sciences are second to none. They are working to protect our environment on every level, from wildlife conservation to outdoor recreation to managing forests.
Online and on-campus students focus on the physical, biological, and social sciences and the most pressing environmental issues. Research-based degrees, as well as professional degrees, are available.
You can explore diverse programs from their five departments:
- Ecosystem Science and Sustainability
- Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology
- Human Dimensions of Natural Resources
- Forest and Rangeland Stewardship
Pursue University engages vital stakeholders in science, management, and sustainable resource use and prepares the next professionals. They are helping solve some of the most critical natural resource issues worldwide with their outstanding expertise in wildlife, fisheries & aquatic science, forestry, and interdisciplinary ecology.
Three undergraduate majors are available in their engaging and supportive departments: Aquatic Sciences, Forestry, and Wildlife. They also offer graduate programs such as Master of Science in Forestry and Doctor of Philosophy. Forestry, fisheries, and wildlife are significant department research areas, emphasizing applied ecology.
Further expertise is available in molecular biologies, such as genetics, physiology, and tissue culture, as well as ecology, fisheries and aquatic sciences, forest biology, forest measurement, and analysis/GIS, natural resource social science, quantitative ecology, wildlife sciences, and manufacturing of wood products.
They work with federal and state agencies and organizations to develop and disseminate natural resource science knowledge. They also share their vision and mission in their Department of Forestry and Natural Resources Strategic Plan.
College of Agriculture, Food and Environment has 14 academic departments, including the Forestry and Natural Resources Department. Forestry and wildland natural resources are the primary focus of its educational, extension, and research programs.
The esteemed faculty at the University of Kentucky’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources is housed in the Taylor Cooper Building on the Lexington Campus and the Robinson Substation in Quicksand, Kentucky.
Besides the buildings at Robinson Forest (in Breathitt, Knott, and Perry Counties), the Wood Utilization Center (in Quicksand, KY) also supports academic programs at the department. A variety of disciplines and programs are available within the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.
The department’s primary responsibility is its Forestry major at the undergraduate level. The only forestry program accredited by the Society of American Foresters in Kentucky is the undergraduate major in forestry. The department also offers a Natural Resources and Environmental Science major. Forest and Natural Resource Sciences provide graduate programs in both MS and Ph.D. levels.
Did you know that Michigan State University offers one of the country’s oldest Forestry programs? Students learn how forests sustain biodiversity and the ecosystem services, such as clean water, wood, and climate control. They enjoy an educational experience that embraces multidisciplinary coursework, field studies, cutting-edge technology, and mentorship from respected faculty.
A Bachelor of Science in Forestry is an accredited program specializing in forestry science. The course combines ecology, biology, economics, and social science to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental, energy, and natural resource issues. Some of the programs you can explore are Urban and Community Forestry, Forestry, or Sustainable Bioproducts Science and Technology.
There are two types of graduate programs: research-intensive and professional. Individuals seeking careers in academia, management, government, non-profit organizations, or the private sector can benefit from these programs. Additionally, students can obtain a Graduate Certificate in Forest Carbon Science, Policy, and Management.
A combination of forestry, wildlife, fisheries, aquaculture, and forest or sustainable products composes the College of Forest Resources. Eleven majors and hundreds of career options are available. Forest and Wildlife Research Center is the research arm of the College, and they work closely with the Mississippi Agriculture and Experiment Station.
In addition, MSU Extension Service provides outreach services. They offer numerous scholarships and part-time jobs to qualified students, and various agencies accredit their programs.
Through these programs, the College promotes, supports, and enables “the management, conservation, and utilization of forest and other natural resources to benefit the stakeholder communities of Mississippi, the nation, and the world.” Consider getting your degree in this trustworthy institution so you can jumpstart your career as a wildlife ranger.
Forestry at Paul Smith’s College emphasizes practical experience. Faculty and staff study and manage forest land on the College’s 14,000-acre campus. An AAS in Forest Technology or a BS in Forestry is available as degree options. Paul Smith’s College offers two degrees accredited by the Society of American Foresters: AAS in Forest Technology and BS in Forestry.
Their bachelor’s degree programs allow you to select from one of the three concentrations:
- Ecological Forest Management – prepares students for work with government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and consulting firms.
- Forest Biology – This is a good choice for students interested in pursuing graduate studies in a field such as Forest Ecology or Forest Entomology.
- Ecological Forest Management Forest Operations – This is designed for students who want to work for forest-products companies or start their own forest-products business.
In addition to forestry coursework, graduates of the program complete coursework in communications, liberal arts, and sciences to develop a civic ethic and a current set of marketable professional skills. First-year students can switch between concentrations.
Forestry Outreach Education at Oregon State University offers an array of state-of-the-art educational events in response to critical issues faced by forestry professionals.
In most cases, the audience for these events is made up of interested people who are not OSU residents and who are not usually involved in OSU’s resident instruction degree programs.
As part of outreach education, short courses, workshops, field trips, symposia, colloquia, and institute programs are offered. Professional societies often certify events, and some events qualify for regular course credit.
Research-based, objective information about forests is provided by the Extension and Outreach programs at the College of Forestry to help people resolve problems, develop leadership, and manage resources wisely.
A variety of recurring and one-time outreach programs, such as conferences and short courses geared toward academics, working professionals, and the general public, are offered by the College’s world-class faculty.
With a Forest Ecosystem Management major, you’ll be adept in nature and science research, management and conservation as they all relate to the quality of life.
The school offers undergraduate majors that provide hands-on science with real-world applications, outstanding internship opportunities, and scholarships. In addition to our core science and management programs, we offer master of science and doctor of philosophy degrees rooted in research.
Their natural resources are sustained through science, technology, and management research. They can accomplish this vital work by applying critical disciplines, including forest health, ecosystem service and function, ecosystem management, and watershed resilience.
They also conduct ecology, wildlife, fisheries, forests, hydrology, and soil sciences. You can tackle complex environmental problems in various ecosystems thanks to the wide range of disciplines.
What a Wildlife Ranger Needs To Know
Pursuing a career as a wildlife ranger requires you to learn some more aspects about it. Get to know the differences between a park and a forest ranger and know the pros and cons. Also, learn how internships and volunteer opportunities can benefit you.
Difference Between a Park Ranger and Forest Ranger
There are times when job titles can be used interchangeably. But it’s crucial to know the slight difference between a park ranger and a forest ranger. Forest rangers can work in a broader range of settings than park rangers, typically limited to national and state parks. Often, they work for non-park or forest agencies in remote areas. Depending on your assignment location, wildlife rangers can be both of these careers.
Internships and Volunteering
Getting a firsthand look at forestry careers and gaining practical experience through volunteering and internships is excellent to learn more about the profession. These opportunities can help students interested in clearing trails and documenting plant populations or learning more about resource conservation policy and forestry politics over several months.
Depending on your college or university, the curricula usually integrate internship opportunities. As for volunteering, you can join communities and non-profit organizations that support park maintenance and operations. You can search for many options of these kinds in online forums and sites, as well as advertisements from environmental agencies. Having experiences can leverage your resume once you start applying as a wildlife ranger.
Pros and Cons of Wildlife Ranger Careers
There are benefits to working in forestry, but this career path isn’t for everyone! When deciding whether or not to pursue forestry, it is essential to consider both the upsides and downsides of the career. Here are some:
- A career in forestry offers much outdoor work, attracting many people. Furthermore, the result is usually done in beautiful locations, quote different from a conventional office setting. You’ll be exposed to the beautiful sights of nature and natural flora and fauna.
- Most forestry careers involve maintaining natural areas, restoring wellness, or ensuring compliance and preventing fires. You’ll feel committed and highly responsible for creating a cleaner and safer natural environment in parks.
- In many forestry careers, employees can use different technologies and tools to broaden their insight and skills that other professionals may not possess.
- To solve problems in forestry, individuals often combine different types of knowledge and skills. Solving large-scale problems that affect people and animals can be highly satisfying when combining hands-on work with theory and data analysis.
- It’s not uncommon for those who work in forestry to face hazardous situations, such as wildfires, flooded surfaces, muddy roads, and rock slide areas.
- Many foresters perform extremely laborious tasks that require strength and endurance. Foresters frequently use critical thinking and problem-solving skills also strains their mental health.
- Forest careers can certainly involve dealing with unpleasant elements, including bugs, poisonous plants, and less-than-noble messes.
Undergraduate Degrees for Wildlife Rangers
Earing a degree as a wildlife ranger is made possible through different bachelor’s degree programs. You can enroll in the best suitable college or University with any of these majors:
Wildlife Science Degree
You can become a Wildlife Ranger with a degree in Wildlife Science! As part of this dynamic program, students gain an in-depth understanding of how to manage wildlife resources through examining wildlife species. This bachelor’s degree program study includes wildlife needs, habitat modification, ecology, and how they affect us.
Parks and Recreation Management
The degree prepares students to manage recreational facilities and tourist-oriented facilities of all kinds. The degree may include travel and tourism concentrations. All concentrations emphasize the development of leadership and business management skills and communication and listening abilities. Customer service and ethics are often covered as well.
Aspiring wildlife rangers may choose to earn a degree in Environmental Science. For this program, students will usually be expected to have a working knowledge of the following subjects: physics, statistics, economics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and geography.
The next step is to take an environmental science course focusing on a specific topic. As wildlife rangers, the graduates will gain valuable experience in natural resource management, agriculture, and conservation, which will apply to their real-life working environment.
Wildlife Ecology and Management
The Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Management offers aspiring park rangers the opportunity to build a solid foundation in fundamental science, including biology and chemistry, while gaining insight into critical areas such as management, restoration, and conservation.
Horticulture degree programs prepare specialists in cultivating and processing edible and ornamental plants, including fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Horticulture courses teach future graduates to conserve, restore, and design gardens. Horticulturists are experts in how plant life is a rich nutritional source that reduces carbon emissions and enhances living spaces.
As a result of completing a Criminal Justice degree program, the student will acquire a comprehensive education in law enforcement, corrections, and judicial systems that will prove very useful when working in the field as a Wildlife Ranger. The courses focus on leadership, criminal behavior, the criminal justice system, and data analysis, all of which are helpful to a wildlife ranger’s daily work.
Skills Every Wildlife Ranger Should Possess
As a wildlife ranger, you’re responsible for managing and protecting public lands. When it comes to wildfires, their primary responsibility is fighting them. The Forestry Department is responsible for enforcing laws that prevent timber theft, maintaining water quality, and preventing litter.
Working with the general public is a significant part of a forest ranger’s job description. Hence, it’s best to apply the following required skills to serve the public better.
Critical Thinking Skills
Wildlife rangers should also have a theoretical understanding of forest species and a practical instinct to recognize vulnerable situations. As a landscape changes due to extreme weather and illegal human activities, you’ll have to identify potential hazards like fires, landslides, and rockfalls. To protect endangered trees and plants, you must also identify them readily. Hence, critical thinking skills are essential in this career path.
Traditional survival skills and modern communication aptitude are required of wildlife rangers! When all modern communications fail, those who have the skills to build a shelter, start a fire, forage for nonpoisonous food, evade dangerous wildlife, and have nighttime orientation will still be able to survive. Therefore, basic to advanced survival skills are essential when working as a wildlife ranger.
A forest ranger is essentially a law enforcement officer, and it’s a given that you’ll be carrying weapons or firearms during duty. Firearm safety requires a thorough understanding of handling, using, and maintaining firearms. However, forest rangers aren’t needed to fulfill this requirement in some states.
In all seasons and weather conditions, forest rangers work outdoors. This requires a high level of physical fitness and mental alertness. If you have animal hair or hay fever allergy, this is not the job for you! Aside from passing physical agility tests, obtaining a medical clearance is also a requirement in the job.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Jobs Can I Get as a Wildlife Ranger?
Wildlife rangers are professionals whose responsibilities include conserving and utilizing park resources. Depending on your job level and employer or location, however, the way this job is performed and the duties it entails may be different.
Here are some variants of the wildlife ranger job:
- Park Ranger
In the absence of any other title, park rangers are likely responsible for performing many duties like entertaining visitors, making interpretations, ensuring their safety, and organizing park activities and tours. You will implement the operating procedures and manage all resources in the park.
As a general park ranger, your job description may vary significantly from week to week, depending on the size and resources of the state park. A park ranger at a state beach might include safeguarding visitors and enforcing regulations regarding the safe use of the beaches. In contrast, those at a state heritage area might be tasked with patrolling backcountry trails and delivering interpretive talks to community groups.
- Park Ranger Cadet
A park ranger cadet is a recruit who performs duties at an entry/training level, including working under the supervision of a senior ranger to learn the responsibilities of the job. Therefore, some of your entry-level tasks include assisting park rangers with visitor services and interpretation tasks. You will also help in essential law enforcement duties. A cadet must complete this entry-level stage to be eligible to succeed as a park ranger.
- Park Manager
A park manager is the general manager of a state or federal park. Their responsibilities include managing the personnel, funds, materials, and facilities necessary to carry out the park’s programs and operations and overseeing public relations initiatives.
Park managers are responsible for overseeing all activities within their parks, including maintenance, interpretation, and resource management. Most primarily, you will be managing staff members, ensuring safety and law enforcement, designating staff for scheduled patrolling, and managing all the ins and outs of the daily operations in the park.
Our Wildlife Rangers in Demand?
The latest US Bureau of Labor Statistics information reveals that conservation scientist and forester jobs will grow 7% within 2020 to 2030. Forests owned by state and local governments, especially in the West, are expected to grow the fastest. As a result of the retirement of park rangers, new jobs may also arise. On average, about 4,000 conservation scientists and foresters will be needed every year over the next ten years.
How can I Level-Up My Career as a Wildlife Ranger?
The median average salary for wildlife rangers is $36,555 per year or $18 per hour. However, many variables predetermine your wages. However, these figures depend on the agency or park you work for, the size of the wildlife environment you oversee, your specific position and role, and your education and experience.
If you gain more experience, you may apply for supervisory or senior park ranger positions. Getting a job in a federal park will earn you a higher salary, so it is worth your time to apply. You can also qualify for more advanced positions by pursuing a master’s degree in a relevant field of study.
What are the Typical Tasks of a Wildlife Ranger?
As state park peace officers, wildlife rangers are sworn and entrusted with authority statewide (while on duty or off duty). They perform these professional and technical duties:
- patrol the area to ensure its safety and protection,
- operate and maintain such locations,
- manage resources
- supervise seasonal and lower-level staff,
- gather data and write reports,
- enforce park rules and laws,
- investigate criminal and administrative matters,
- lead emergency response,
- conduct searches and rescues,
- administer emergency medical care,
- handle traffic and radio dispatches,
- entertaining guests and tourists
Do Wildlife Rangers Live in the Park or Forest?
Some agencies provide housing for wildlife rangers on the park grounds. Depending on the park, the rangers may even be required to live in the accommodation provided by the park.
Working as a wildlife ranger is not solely about earning a living but is focused more on your passion for serving the public and retaining the environment’s condition for the sake of future generations. The best college degree that is great for you, as stated above, include:
- Wildlife Science,
- Parks and Recreation Management,
- Wildlife Ecology,
- Environmental Science,
- and Horticulture.
There are many benefits to earning these degrees, and you can choose which one or which school to attend based on your needs and preferences. Do note that you’ll need to consider their accreditations, internship opportunities, faculty, and school facilities so you can get value for your money. Find the best program to prepare to be a wildlife ranger soon.